Everyone knows High Street is blue-chip restaurant real estate, but this must be right on the edge of Windsor. Tora isn’t scrapping for business with all the other eateries down near Chapel St. Nope. Owner Daniel Liao is breathing fresh air up here—there’s only Small Print Pizza, Mount Erica Hotel and good old Lemnos Tavern to worry about.
“I didn’t want to be too close to Chapel Street,” Liao says. “I want Tora to feel a bit quieter. You can come here for a relaxed after-work drink and some snacks. I want it to feel like home.”
The vibe is ‘home-y’, but in a slick, architecturally designed, check-out-my-ceilings kind of way. There’s that obligatory mix of brushed concrete, LED up-lighting, timber batons and charcoal bench seats, but it doesn’t feel sterile. Definitely a good spot for sipping Friday night sake.
Tora may look like a Melbourne Japanese restaurant, but it’s a bit more ambitious than that. For starters, it’s not just Japanese. Liao says he had one of those “three citizen upbringings” (born in Taiwan, raised in Thailand, now an Aussie…with a wife from Japan), so the food borrows a bit from all over.
The basic concept is small share plates. Little beer snacks like Thai silom moo ping pork skewers with sticky rice and spicy jaew sauce. Smoked hock croquettes with chilli tonkatsu sauce and karashi mayo. Taiwanese-style karaage chicken with Thai basil and yuzu. ‘Fusion’ has become a bit of a dirty word (like ‘deconstructed’) so let’s go with ‘creative’ instead. Everything tastes pretty good with tapped pint of frosty Sapporo.
When it comes to mains, you’ve got to try the Crying Tora hanger steak, sliced medium-moo and topped with watermelon, cucumber and nuoc nam. It’s flame-thrower spicy. Even Liao says it makes him sweat, although apparently, locals are ordering it by the truckload. Sticky chilli caramel beef ribs and coconut kingfish ceviche are also worth a gander.
“The wine list isn’t massive,” says Liao, “but we’ve got some great sakes and umeshu. Plus basic Japanese whisky and some local gins.”
Yeah, fair call. Don’t come here for the cellar. A cold sake and an outdoor table is definitely the way to go. Just be prepared to fight Windsor/Armadale locals for a seat—word of mouth is already spreading fast.
Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis